A Wisconsin-based atheist group demanded a North Carolina school system ban students from participating in an annual Christmas celebration featuring a Nativity scene, but the district didn’t care.
Despite a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to the Wake County School System in Raleigh, North Carolina, sent in late November, demanding the district bar students from participating in the “Raleigh Community Christmas Celebration,” nine Wake County choirs and orchestras took part in the event, according to The News & Observer.
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The event, which ran through the weekend, was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Raleigh. It included both faith-based and secular Christmas carols, such as “Jingle Bells,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Away in a Manger.”
There was also, of course, a Nativity scene depicting Jesus’s birth.
Interestingly, the school district did reportedly ban students from participating in a similar holiday event — the “Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration” — in 2016, following a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Wake County School System spokesman Tim Simmons said students were allowed to participate in this year’s event because it was not as overtly religious as the Apex celebration.
“These are all case-by-case decisions,” he explained. “It’s the Establishment Clause. You’re taking criteria and applying it to each situation.”
The school district still doesn’t endorse the Apex event, though students are allowed to participate on their own, if they would like.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation sees no difference between the Apex event and the Mormon Christmas celebration the students participated in this year. Patrick Elliott, senior counsel for the atheist group, called the school’s participation in the event “unconstitutional.”
“There is no way that a public school can participate in a church event which has as its focus a Nativity scene,” Elliott said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation lost this round, but the organization is continuing to pressure the district into barring students from participating in the faith-based event next year.